Friday, November 19, 2010

Amazon Studios

Several people have asked me what I reckon about the Amazon Studios thing. I didn't want to comment until I'd read all the terms and conditions, but now that I've ploughed through all the details, I'm not keen at all. Obviously, I'm not a lawyer, this is all my opinion, blah blah blah.

So let's start with the downsides:

-- Amazon automatically take an 18 month option, for free (which means you can't sell your script to anyone else during that time). At the end of that, if they want another 18 month option, they pay you $10,000. You can't turn it down, either, even if you have several actual film companies begging to buy your script - if Amazon want to extend the option, you have no choice. If your script is good, then you're stuck with them for 3 years. Up and coming writers usually get paid if their script is optioned. Even just a token amount. Sometimes it's 50 quid. Sometimes it's several thousand pounds. And it's usually for 6 to 12 months. Update: It's actually even worse than this. After 18 months (or 3 years) even when the rights revert to you, they can STILL sell your script or give it away. Forever. They just don't have the exclusive right to. So you might get your script back, but share the rights with Amazon. *Surely* I've misunderstood this, right? It *can't* be that horrific, right? Someone at Amazon or a legal type, please tell me I've got that wrong. For my own sanity.

-- Anyone can rewrite your script. Your version stays there too, but will soon have several rewrites surrounding it. If someone reads a bad rewrite first, they might not bother to read and vote on the original draft.

-- Suppose you write a script about a giant killer robot mouse. Someone comes along and rewrites it, adding some crap jokes. Someone else comes along, reads their new version, and thinks it's brilliant - but do they read your original version too? Do they like it *because* of the new person's changes, or because of the stuff in there which is yours?

-- Which raises the tricky question of who decides how much you contributed *to your own script* - in the movie world, this is called arbitration, where experts (who are also writers) read every draft, and make careful decisions about who did what and what credits are deserved. They sometimes get this wrong. It's very difficult, even for them. How are Amazon going to cope with a script rewritten by 24 people, if the changes are very small?

-- Suppose your script does really well, and rises up the ranks. Every idiot with no ideas who wants to be attached to something cool will start doing "rewrites" on it, in the hope that they'll be included in the credits and cash payouts. This will dilute the quality, and reduce your credit and payment. Ironically, this part is fairly similar to the normal movie world…

-- The more voices you bring into a script, the more writers, the more interference, the worse it gets. You get hired because of your voice, the way a script *feels* and sounds that is unique to you. As soon as anyone gets their hands on that, it gets lost. Sure, the process might result in a good script at some point, but it's never going to have the originality and quirks of a sole writer's voice. The Amazon system would never result in something like Reservoir Dogs, or Kidulthood - strong, powerful, original voices that only those specific writers could have done at that time. Before you quote The Pixar Exception at me - a small, tight team is responsible for writing the actual script, sometimes just one person. Everyone in the company can give feedback and suggestions, but they don't just let everyone do a rewrite.

-- Dude. Have you *seen* some of the "reviews" on Amazon??

-- It starts from an assumption of failure. You put your script in, and it gets rewritten by anyone and everyone, no matter what. Sure, your original version is still there, but normally you'd get a couple of drafts after being hired, drafts that you'd write yourself. You're immediately giving away your rewrite chances. You could always do another draft yourself, later. But people looking at it will wonder why you didn't wait and hand in *that* new draft instead of the original.

Okay, that's enough negativity. Let's consider the upsides:

-- Monthly cash prizes for top scripts. That's good, if you win. But if your script is good enough to win those, it's good enough to get you an agent and/or sell to a film company.

-- The production and distribution stuff. Sure, if your script makes it all the way, untouched, and gets made, released, etc etc, you *could* make a lot of money. Nowhere *near* as much money as Amazon and WB will make out of it, of course. And if anyone does a rewrite, and gets credit, your payment is reduced. If several people do rewrites, it's reduced even more.

-- If your script is crap, but has a good idea at the core, someone else could do a good rewrite, and you'd both get a share in the final movie. Hey, might happen. But do you want to have a small share in one movie, or become a better writer and get a movie made out of *your* script, and build a career?

-- The biggest upside is this: you could be living in the middle of nowhere, with no experience or connections, with hardly any writing ability, and find yourself with a hit movie in the cinemas that you had a little bit to do with. Maybe. Assuming many, many, many things go your way.

So they're the upsides and downsides, according to me. Taking all that into account, do I think you should go for it or not? Bear in mind first that my opinion here is probably going to upset some of you. If you just want to be told you're brilliant and special and anything can happen in magical movieland, then stop reading now. Still here? Okay, don't say I didn't warn you.

The Amazon Studios site is not aimed at people who want to be writers. It's aimed at people who want some free money from a big movie, without doing much work. There, I said it.

Sure, people who want to be writers might genuinely be interested in it, but they're not the target audience. I get that it might seem like an attractive deal for someone who has been working on a script for ages with no results. If you're not getting anywhere, been rejected by every agent and film company in the world, and this is your last possible option, I couldn't blame you for giving it a try. Although you'd have to ask yourself why you'd been rejected by every agent and film company in the world.

But if you really, really, really want to be a writer, I'd recommend staying far away from the website. It won't make you a better writer. Work on your scripts, your original voice, your career. A good script will get read, and found, and passed on to people who can buy it or help you start your career. Put that same good script into this thing, and you've pretty much just given it away. Even if it gets made and survives the tortuous process, you might not see any money or credit. And most people will not get the second option fee of $10,000, will not win the monthly prizes, will not get their film sold and made. The Red Planet competition is also free to enter, but your script remains your property unless they buy it, and the prizes are much better for your career and growth as a writer - there's no downside to entering that. This seems to be mostly downsides.

If you want feedback on your work, go read this. If you want to be a writer, go read a lot, write a lot, work on your scripts. If you're good, you'll get noticed and break in. If you're not, then you won't, until you get good. That's it, really. If you want a career in writing, you already knew I was going to say that, because you've done your research, asked questions, read all my FAQs, read all of the other helpful blog posts out there, and they all pretty much say the same thing.

If you're still looking for a short cut or an easy answer, then you don't want to be a writer. You just want to be rich and famous. Which is fine, but I can't help you with that.

Update: For proper, clever, detailed analysis, go read what Piers Beckley, Michelle Lipton, and John August have to say about it.